Pat Haggerty interview Part 1: Republican partisanship, lobbyists ruined the House; he's going to lobby
By Ben Wright
Posted on October 23, 2008
Last week Newspaper Tree talked to District 78 state Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso. Below are excerpts from the conversation.
Pat, when I called you last week to ask if you were going to endorse either candidate in the District 78 race, you replied, “I’m a good solid Republican.” What does that mean?
It means a conservative monetary policy and less government the better. We don’t need government telling us what to do. I’m very leery about what's going on at the minute (with the bailout.)
Do you think that describes the Bush administration?
Over the last 10 years it (the national government) hasn’t been Republican. They’ve been spending like drunken sailors.
So what happened?
It’s called buying votes.
Do you think Bush was a better governor than a president?
Yes. Because he had a different field of play … When I got to the Legislature back in 1989, there were only 47 Republicans. But the Democrats were pretty well split fifty-fifty between liberals and conservatives. Now what’s happened over the course of time is that a lot of these conservative Democrats ended up becoming Republicans or having their seats taken over by Republicans. … When he (Bush) came in ’94, we were up to about 55 Republicans. But, he had enough conservative Democrats to do what it was that he wanted to do.
What’s your take on Sarah Palin?
She’s done a good job stirring up the troops. Is she qualified to be President? Probably not. Is Obama qualified? Probably not … So what's the difference?
Do you agree with criticism that Palin has been a negative influence on the election?
When you run for president you pick someone for vice-president who is going to be the pitbull. The vice president is always the one who throws the stones against the other guy. If you go back, it was the same way with Bush and Cheney. You see it with Biden too going after McCain.
Pat, this is the first time since 1988 that you won't be up for election. What does it feel like to not be campaigning?
Well, many times (over the years) I haven’t had opponents so there has been a lot of times when I haven’t campaigned.
But, how do you feel about not going back to the Legislature?
I will be going back to the Legislature. I’m going to be lobbying.
What the difference between lobbying and being a representative?
Number one, you don’t get as good of a parking place, and number two, you don’t get to vote.
But apart from that?
It’s about the same
So who will you work for?
Anybody who wants to hire me.
Is there anyone you won’t lobby for?
Sure. You have to look at the issues they’re pushing. I’m not going to work for Planned Parenthood. I’m probably not going to get hired by the teacher’s union.
Texas politics seems pretty polarized right now. You’ve been there for twenty years. What happened?
The common ground got swallowed up when the Republicans took over in 2003 and started playing partisan politics when the rest of us weren’t. That’s when we lost almost everything that’s gone right in this state.
Why did they decide to play “partisan politics?”
There were a few lobbyists making a lot of money who decided they were going to do things their way.
What kind of lobbyists?
The two guys who own the Speaker of the Texas House.
Does it really come down to that?
Right now. Pretty much.
Would you call it an oligarchy?
You could say that and wouldn’t get an argument from many people … The speaker last session declared that he had absolute authority. And, he had two guys serving as his parliamentarians who backed him up on that. (one Democrat, one Republican). And that’s why I’m not there any more. I said “You’re wrong, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” … Right now, government in Texas is for sale.
So if you want it you can buy it?
So what is getting bought?
If you look at the last couple of sessions, they tried to buy (school) vouchers. They bought tort reform. They spent an awful lot of money on an awful lot of things and whatever you spent the money on, that’s what you got. There were bills being brought to the house that had never gone through the committee process but were landing on the floor. If you hire the right lobbyists, you can have your bill on the calendar. You don’t even have to take it through committee.
So the whole process is being undermined by money?
Do you think campaign finance restrictions would make a difference?
No. It really doesn’t make any sense because what you wind up with then, is that the people who are in power end up being there forever because there’s no way to take them out. You can’t raise the kind of money you need to raise to compete with them on an equal footing. They would always have more resources to fall back on.
How to fix it then?
You get rid of bad people. Vote them out of office
What about lobbying restrictions?
How do you restrict lobbying? It’s free speech.
[The conversation is disrupted by a phone call. We then watch a little CNN and continue to talk about free speech from the point of view of the negativity of the presidential race. I argue that excessive negativity is irresponsible; Representative Haggerty says it is free speech.]
But, Pat, surely with freedom comes responsibility. We don't just have a blind right to be a jackass.
Absolutely you do. You have the right to a jackass. Now it stops when you yell “fire” in a crowded building. But being a jackass, there’s absolutely no roof.
Well what about social issues like abortion? Do I have the right “to be a jackass” in that case?
(Thoughtful pause) Yes. The law of the land says you have the right to abort that fetus. I think it’s wrong but I can’t stop you. I can say it’s wrong; I can despise what your doing but I can’t stop you. But I have the right to tell you you’re wrong, and I can be a jackass about doing it. And I can say that I will never vote to give you the money to do it.
Do you think the abortion issue has become a commodity?
Of course. A lot of people make a lot of money out of it. Planned Parenthood are making a fortune. The anti-abortion groups are making a fortune. They haven’t changed the law since Roe vs Wade. That was 35 years ago.
Well, getting back to Texas politics, what did you try to achieve in the state house?
In 1999, I was appointed chairman of the Corrections Committee. We had just gone on the biggest prison-building binge in the history of the free world. … What that did was to create a whole group of new people who were running the system a lot of whom didn’t have the wherewithal or brains to be doing it. A lot of the corrections officers who were promoted should never have been promoted, but there was no choice. That’s what happens when you grow that fast.
The idea was that somehow, we were going to lock up all the bad guys and they were never going to see the light of day again. And it was a total mistake. So, what I was pushing for is that we needed to be smarter about it. A lot of the changes that I tried to put into place are now being accomplished.
Now whether I’m being paid or not I’m going to continue to lobby for those changes.
Would you consider running for public office again?
It’s possible. But as a Republican in El Paso you can’t win.
So what is left for you to do in the state house before January?
I’m still a member of MALC. (Mexican-American Law Caucus) In order to be a member of MALC, you have to have a district that’s over 60 percent Hispanic. I’m the only Republican gringo who is a member. We’re having a big fund-raiser tomorrow night and a golf tournament on Wednesday that I MC for. The idea to is to raise money for kids to come down and work in the representatives’ offices and learn the process from the inside. It’s a super program.
Are you still in committee meetings?
I still have meetings of the Transportation Committee. TxDOT is coming up for a review session. Every 12 years, you are required to come back before the Legislature and prove you’re still a viable entity and we should justify you continuing.
Are you on any other committees?
I’m still on the Corrections Committee.
When did you stop being chairman of that committee?
When Craddick took over. I was only chair for two sessions.
What is Craddick good at? How did he get into the position of power he holds.
He has a lot of access to a lot of money.
How has he changed things?
He’s almost destroyed collegiality. He’s almost destroyed bi-partisanship. He has put the process up for sale.
Anything you agree with him on?
The only problem I had with Craddick is the fact that he decided he had absolute power. I didn’t mind that he was speaker. It didn’t bother me at all. But the idea that somebody has absolute power is anathema to everything I believe in government.
Did you find common ground with him on many issues?
Sometimes. … If it was an oil and gas issue, he wanted you to vote a certain way. When it came to education, he wanted El Paso to take less. When it came down to medical school, he wanted us not to have a medical school. So from my standpoint, I couldn’t agree with anything the man said on these issues. ... That’s why they put a boatload of money against me. They outspent me two-to-one to make sure I didn’t come back.
Was Craddick also behind Lorraine O’Donnell’s primary run against you back in 2006?
No, that one was more the governor (Rick Perry-R) than the speaker. There were some people on his staff who thought I was disrespectful. And they said “We’re gonna get rid of Haggerty,” and I think he kind of said “Ok, I don’t care, it doesn’t mean nothing to me.” He’s like any other politician. When it comes down to loyalty and friendship: It means nothing. I’m going with the money. And that meant Woody Hunt and (Ted) Houghton, (Rick) Francis and Paul Foster.
What did they have against you?
Nothing they’d always supported me before. But Perry said we’re running against Haggerty so they said, “Ok.”
Is that it?
That’s it, pretty much. They pay him money and they get the appointments.
Pat, that sounds like France in the 1780s: you pay for it you get it.
There you go.
So, Texas and France aren’t that dissimilar then!
Craddick and Perry’s Texas.
I’m amazed at the sheer amount of money a primary races can raise.
They have access to that kind of money. Some races, you’re talking two or three million dollars. For a job that pays $600 a month. You tell me what it’s worth.
What Craddick is doing is trying to buy enough votes to keep himself in power. Because, when you’re divvying up $150 billion a year, then obviously, if a few million fall here and there, it’s probably worth it.
Now, let’s be honest, a lot of that is pre-spent. In other words, there is so much that has to be spent on education, then you’ve got schools, you’ve got courts, you’ve got law enforcement. But if you pass the budget, there are places you can cut and places you can spend. That’s what up for grabs.
And, if you have certain lobbyist saying we need to spend in this particular area, as opposed to this particular area, and they have the speaker’s ear, then more than likely it’s going to happen. And we’re talking lots and lots of money.
So lobbying is essentially money buying money.
Absolutely. And no one is spending more than they’re going to get.
Look out for part 2 on Friday afternoon, when Haggerty talks about District 78 candidates Joe Moody and Dee Margo.
Most Viewed Stories
- Sex clubs and swingers in El Paso
- Bad Moon Rising: The Crisis in Ciudad Juarez
- Police Blotter 2.12.09: Bank robber nabbed; FBI says powder sent to offices not harmful; first homicide arrest; top collision intersections; 17-year-old shot self
- Biz Briefs 6.8-12.09: Small business summit; Department of Labor forum
- Expert: Officer displayed 'contempt of cop' reaction; Internal Affairs record shows 12 disciplinary actions
- ABC-7 reporter and photographer handcuffed, detained while covering I-10 wreck
- El Paso on the stock market
- Fernando Parra Arrested
- Wardy Campaign Contributions Don't Add Up
- Police Blotter 11.23.09: Manhunt Monday